x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

'A huge appetite for sport in the UAE'

High-profile player manager 'Chubby' Chandler to launch company to increase the level of professionalism in the country.

Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler, centre, once manager to Rory McIlroy, has a long-term vision for the sporting scene in the UAE. Jamie Squire / Getty Images
Andrew 'Chubby' Chandler, centre, once manager to Rory McIlroy, has a long-term vision for the sporting scene in the UAE. Jamie Squire / Getty Images

DUBAI // Andrew Chandler, the manager to some of the most high profile figures in world golf and cricket, is set to launch an Emirates-based organisation intent on improving the infrastructure of sport in the Middle East.

Mena Sports, backed by Sheikh Dheyab bin Tahnoon, is the latest venture by Chandler's International Sports Management company and will, according to director Thomas Brookes, aim to develop the basic organisational structure of clubs in the UAE.

While golf and cricket will feature prominently on the agenda, Chandler's International Football Management arm means strong emphasis will also be placed on increasing interest and the level of professionalism in the beautiful game.

It is not the first time a company has been launched with the promise of bringing heightened professionalism to the country's sports scene, yet Chandler – nicknamed Chubby – is no stranger to the UAE and says he is aware of the potential pitfalls that come with doing business in an embryonic market.

The 58 year old played in the inaugural Dubai Desert Classic in 1989 and has since concluded several sponsorship deals with Emirates-based international-reaching companies such as Jumeirah and Falcon Associates.

"We can't speak for previous events or companies as we were not involved with them," Chandler said. "Clearly, there are challenges that exist in all sports and sports events, but we are confident we have the right blend of local and international expertise to ensure our contributions prove to be successful.

"There's a huge appetite for sport in the UAE; it is how this is channelled and delivered that determines how successful and sustainable it is."

Brookes, who flew into Dubai last week and will return once more in seven days' time, says the company has a long-term goal as well as the backing to see it realised.

While he refused to disclose which clubs – football or otherwise – Mena Sports will be working with, he said: "We're here for the long-term and have a commitment with His Highness that ensures our plans and activity here are sustainable and in the best interests of the UAE."

As the head of the football division of ISM, Brookes cited the UAE's Olympic national team as one example of how off-field infrastructure helps improve on-field success.

"It's always a challenge for emerging countries such as the UAE to support their excellent infrastructure programmes with an 'on-field' product that improves year on year and one that attracts growth in terms of both spectator attendances and commercial partners," he said.

"There's room for improvement in areas such as sports science, player-coach recruitment, academy and post-academy programmes, psychology, et cetera, to ensure the standards and profile of the sport are improved. But not at the cost of the progression of young local Emirati players."

The only event confirmed in the pipeline so far is a Cricket Legends match to be held at some stage next year.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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